Boosting Texas Community Aligns With Planner’s Vision
What makes a community? Ben Hyde has been mulling that over ever since he was in high school.
The Kansas City native and his wife of four months, Ying, have just moved to New Braunfels, Texas, where he will put into action some of the ideas he’s had about creating community areas that truly serve homeless and low-income people and invest in local human resources.
New Braunfels, one of the fastest growing cities in the country, has never had affordable housing, Ben says. A community of 10,000 15 years ago, New Braunfels has ballooned to 70,000 today. While a person can buy a house for $25,000 to $35,000, he says, this “young community needs infrastructure.”
After training sessions through AmeriCorps in Denver, Ben went to Texas in August to get to know his supervisors and plot his day-to-day activities. These will range from talking to politicians and giving presentations to doing research on funding, grants and tax credits. He’ll be looking into acquiring some of those grants, helping to develop community gardens, homeless shelters and transitional living spaces along with services that deal with the psychological issues homeless people often face. These services need to happen on a daily basis, Ben says, “so people don’t fall back into the same situation.”
Unfortunately Ben is finding that programs already set up in New Braunfels that are trying to provide services like transportation for low-income and no-income people, affordable housing, better educational opportunities and day care are struggling. “They don’t have the funds,” Ben says. “Housing is particularly a big issue here as there are not enough housing units that are affordable for the area. There is a perception by some in the community that poverty does not exist and people are not homeless.
. . .There is a perception by some in the community that poverty does not exist and people are not homeless. The reality is much different…
“The reality is much different. My main purpose here right now is to work on streamlining how we get our data for the Texas Homeless Network and making sure that it is accurate,” he says.
Ben also is tasked with working on a transitional housing project. “We are trying to partner with SAM Ministries based in San Antonio to run the development of the project.” (SAMMinistries is a Canadian faith-based non-profit committed to “compassionately serving people…We are convinced of the empowering effect that acts of kindness have when they are done with love to address the needs of people.” samministries.com)
The good news is that the project is in Stage 2 environmental analysis and, barring any setbacks, should be under way soon.
Ben bills himself as political and community-minded and says that his driving interest in both has led him to this new job. After graduating from Creighton University in Omaha, he worked in advertising and lived in the area of downtown Kansas City that is coming back to life with theaters, shops, restaurants, lofts, art galleries and bars. He particularly became involved with the Crossroads District Community Association in a gallery-intensive area that hosts First Fridays arts crawls and other events.
In his work for that and the newly created Power and Light District of downtown Kansas City, he would return to the office with the thought that he wanted to “stand up for the little guy. It was my first taste of that.”
In 2008, his firm lost Sonic as a client. He was told that it would not make that much difference and that he would be doing more economic and community analysis. “But I could see I was going to lose my job when we lost Sonic,” he says. The firm lost a few others—Citgo and some theme parks. “They added some back but not in my department. I kept learning new stuff to keep my job but that year I burned out.
“I thought: ‘how is my business helping communities and people, especially urban people?”
He remembered what neighborhood meant when he was growing up—the feeling that people knew one another and the simple pleasures like visiting the elderly woman down the block. He wants to bring that forward and be part of a place where he and his wife can walk to work and nod to the people on their block.
“I want to help revitalize a community and see its schools improved, a place where programs can be provided for training to become pharmacists or dental technicians or training that correlates to good jobs,” Ben says. “I believe education is the key for the types of jobs that seem to be evolving in the 21st Century, like in the medical field in general and the sciences that help influence it.
Ben points to Portland as an example of a city with a successful downtown renaissance and Detroit as its antithesis. “When jobs go away, no one can afford housing. Businesses leave and then there is no work force. There are complex dynamics, some of them racial. It can become a blame game.”
Ben returned to school to get his masters in urban planning with an emphasis in economic and community development from the University of Kansas. He found out about AmeriCorps at KU in “the best public policy program in the country.” His counselor steered him to the urban program.
After this graduation, Ben “beat down every door,” looking for work that related to his masters locally. “I was frustrated. I found about 30 positions available. I applied to most of them. Right before we were married, my wife said she thought I should conduct a wider search.”
This netted him interviews around the country with the first offer through AmeriCorps in Chicago. “I thought about the safety for my wife,” he says.
“I will not be making a lot of money but I want to live in the neighborhood I’m helping with. I want to try to understand what people in the neighborhood are going through.”
Just after he and Ying decided they would not go to Chicago, another offer came through from Texas. When he flew there to meet with supervisors, he saw the opportunities he could involve himself in for the New Braunfels community.